It’s almost surreal: that feeling when you can’t believe what just happened, but really you can. I didn’t make it. I made it to midnight and then I couldn’t keep my eyes open. The first pitch took place three hours after the original start time for game 3 of the Women’s College World Series Championship Finals. It was winner take all. Just one game to decide it. And thanks to ESPN, I’ve seen the full game twice with no plans to delete it from my DVR anytime soon. But that’s not where I want to begin. Let’s step back. Let’s step back to mid-April.
In April, the Alabama Gymnastics team won its second straight National Championship and sixth overall. We Alabama alums and fans were mesmerized. Not only had our football team delivered its second BCS National Championship in three years in January, but now our gymnastics team was bringing home a little hardware of their own. We rejoiced. We cheered. We cried. We even sat stunned. It had been a rough year for all of us who love Tuscaloosa and The University of Alabama, and those two national championships only a few months apart was somewhat strangely healing as if to say, “it’s going to be okay.” I don’t like to put a lot of pressure or emphasis on natural disasters parlaying anything or anyone into success because you still have to go out and play. But even if a devastating monster of a tornado wasn’t a catalyst for the success, that success has nevertheless been a catalyst for helping us move forward.
It was remarkable. No one school is supposed to have this much success so close together, so I think a lot of us took what we were given and said, “Awesome job ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for representing our school so well. We are so proud.” I’m not sure any of us EXPECTED what happened next no matter how much we believe in every single one of our student athletes.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago on the Friday before Memorial Day. The Alabama Women’s Golf Team was playing for their first ever national championship. Surely, we all must have thought, this isn’t possible. How in the world could we possibly win THREE national championships in a span of nearly 5 months. So with every hole that didn’t go our way, we thought, “okay, we’re not gonna do it, but we’ve made a great effort.” And with every hole that did go our way, we thought, “holy cow this might actually happen.” And then that final hole happened and suddenly the women’s golf team was bringing home a little hardware of their own as well. Surely this was the end of our run, as great of a run as it was, this had to be the end of it. But wait…there’s more.
A little over a week later, the MEN’S golf team was playing for that national championship against Texas. This made it four different Alabama teams playing in the last game/meet/match of the season for a chance to win the national championship. With different sports, you might see your school end up in post season play, but actually being in a position to win the national championship FOUR times in five months. Come on, that’s just silly, but it happened. In this case, we fell literally one hole short of winning our fourth national championship in the calendar year of 2012, but being able to say that we only came up one hole short of that championship felt pretty good. But wait…there’s more.
Doubt creeps in at this point. You know you’ve got a championship caliber softball team, but after all that, you start to wonder if all the success of the other teams will be the breaking point…the downfall. That’s when you stop yourself. That’s when you remember, you’re not Jackie Traina. You’re not Patrick Murphy. You’re not any one of those ladies on that team who is fighting to bring home a championship to their school no matter what has happened in the previous five months or even the previous five minutes. That’s when you realize this is their opportunity and no doubt that is running through your head matters. So, as an alum/fan you buck up and you scream from your couch and you might give certain opponents dirty looks through the TV. But, bottom line, you support every one of them to the bitter or beautiful end.
That’s when the stats start coming into play. You remember that this is a team that never lost to an opponent more than once all season, which means that they never dropped a series. All totaled, they only lost eight games all season (including this championship series). This is a team that has responded every time…EVERY TIME…their backs were against the wall. This is the team that sells out their stadium more often than the baseball team sells out theirs, which granted may say more about our baseball team than I’d like to admit. This is a group of seniors who have banged on and chipped away at that door of the Women’s College World Series so much that they refused to be denied this time. They had rubber bracelets made that simply said “Finish It,” and when you heard that, it gave a twinge of belief that even in the face of adversity in the middle of game 3 down 3-0 to the #4 team in the nation this team would respond…this team would finish it. You don’t quit just because you’ve had two home runs resulting in three runs hit against you in the first three innings of the championship game. You walk back out to that pitchers circle and you fight. That’s what Jackie Traina did: the woman who threw every single pitch for the Crimson Tide in these WCWS games. Not once did she appear beaten. Not once did she say I can’t do it. All she did was fight. For three games, she had battled against Oklahoma’s pitcher Rickett’s, a battle for the ages because both of those ladies are remarkably talented. And with two outs in the top of the seventh inning, OU’s Rickett’s stepped to the plate in an attempt to be a hero for her team that was down 5-4 while Traina was fighting to keep that score as it was. In that moment, every practice, every work out, every bit of prep work Jackie had done prior to resulted in a strike out and a national championship: the first ever for Alabama and for the SEC.
It struck me as this most recent national championship makes its way back to Tuscaloosa today that we are 16 days shy of the 40th anniversary of the passing of the Title IX legislation: a piece of legislation that virtually made this opportunity possible. You see, Alabama may have won four of the five national championships it played for in the first 6 months of 2012, but three of those were women’s national championships. I cried when I first read the words “Alabama softball wins its first national championship” not because I am so happy for and proud of them, though I am, but because in a town at a university that has 14 national titles in football, it’s the women who have now won three national championships in three different sports in just the last two months. In a town at a university where football is king, it’s the women who are bringing home the hardware, and I, for one, can’t think of a better way to celebrate the anniversary of Title IX.
Roll Tide, Ladies! Thank you for reminding me that nothing is ever over until it is finished.